Good Night

Dear J-

If I had to headline it, I’d call it something like Shyamalan Speaks or Breaks Silence; there’s an interview where he defends his casting choices for The Last Airbender as being racially blind. Being ignorant of the whole movie-making process, I can’t say that the director of a film has that much power over the casting process (I have seen credits for Casting Director, but what that means is beyond my knowledge), so I’m not going to speculate on whether he’s being used as a mouthpiece or not. But the director is like the coach, and gets the most responsibility, so the buck stops at Night, I suppose.

My reasons for not wanting to see the movie are complex but can generally be reduced to simplest terms: Lady in the Water and the violation of the Tarantino Rule — Thou Shalt Not Insert Thyself into Thy Movie Unnecessarily. At least there’s not going to be much reason to put himself into the movie, but the real hardship I have with his response is its glib scattershot approach; he gives reasons that are individually defensible, but when taken as a whole, fall apart. For example, characters were cast, according to the interview, because of their racial ambiguity — which is a little like the tampon commercial where the spokesmodel says that she was chosen because everyone can identify with her. He goes on to state that anime itself and its influence lends itself to racial ambiguity, which betrays a deep misunderstanding of anime in general: it’s well-understood that characters drawn with classical anime/manga features are meant to be the same as the author.

In that case, then, it’s perfectly fine to fill the cast the way they have. It’s not the point, though; taken as a whole, The Last Airbender represents another missed opportunity to redress the portrayal of races. I’m tired of seeing and reading Asian men who are (1) misogynistic (2) asexual (3) powerless and/or villainous along with Asian women who are (1) waiting to be rescued (2) sexually submissive or (3) tortuous Dragon Ladies (by the way, thank you David Guterson for hitting nearly all the stereotypes in Snow Falling on Cedars; may we all turn the clock back forty years so easily). The movie was a chance to challenge assumptions and perceptions, but now we’re stuck with what’s been filmed, canned, and printed.



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